Music

Martin Frawley's 'Undone at 31' Is an Eclectic and Mostly Joyous Adventure

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Martin Frawley's (Twerps) first solo album has a lot of range but not so much anxiety, as he continues to try on musical styles and forms.

Undone at 31
Martin Frawley

Merge

22 February 2019

Range Anxiety (2015), which turned out to be the last Twerps album, seemed to gnaw away at a memory as it sought to identify its references and influences. With the passing of time and the achievement of some perspective, the album's title might, after all, seem to have been a wry nod in the direction of Pavement with range anxiety replacing the range life that would have allowed Martin Frawley and his bandmates to settle down. But this rabbit hole quickly became a warren as Range Anxiety seemed to wander off in so many directions that it was gloriously impossible to pin down for any length of time, particularly when co-Twerp and erstwhile Frawley life partner Julia McFarlane added not only her voice and her songs but her own set of influences to the proceedings.

Fast forward almost four years, and things have changed drastically. Twerps are no more, and the relationship between Frawley and McFarlane has also ended, leaving all parties to pick up the pieces and reassemble their lives. Martin Frawley's Undone at 31 is part of that undertaking, and the album is a step forward and a look back at the same time, as Frawley continues to range far and wide in a generically restless but refreshingly concise and ultimately quite satisfying album.

Opening track "You Want Me?" opens in assured musical fashion with a languid and picaresque journey through the thickets of his recent past, while Frawley also appears to be taking a walk on the wild side with regard to his particular point of musical reference, although he may be on less than steady emotional ground, uncertain about past, present and future, but moving ahead anyway. There is an insistent questioning in the song that might suggest anxiety belied by the relaxed and jaunty melody and arrangement. While the vocal is telling an almost metaphysical tale of fairly significant ups and downs from the age of 12 until the present moment, the delicate bass and piano figures seem to be competing with each other to be as cheerful as possible. The subtle encroachment of a synthesizer as the song progresses also seems to add an extra dimension to the song so that by the end we already have a sense of an artist moving away from everything that came before, and into very new territory that feels almost liberated, almost relaxed, almost at peace.

But as is the case in so many post-traumatic situations, there is often a temporary movement forward that is soon followed by a backward lapse and "End of the Bar", the album's second song, seems to establish a messier emotional tone as the musical arrangement and the lyrical content confirm. There is rather threatening jadedness to a lyric that contains a warning, "don't come smiling, don't come easy, cause I'll hit you in the heart." Furthermore, Frawley wears not only his heart but his references on his sleeve as he buries a crafty reference to the legendary Go-Betweens "Unkind and Unwise" deep in the heart of the song. It's a very clever move to let us know that Frawley knows just what he's doing and that this vehicle is firmly under his control, for all the appearance that he might be careening down a mountain road with severed brake lines. The somewhat sour mood of "End of the Bar" doesn't last long as "What's on Your Mind" then takes off at a rapid rate and feels like a good old-fashioned exhilarating rock and roll song, propelled forward by the bass that seems to be a defining characteristic of the Frawley's new solo adventure.

There does indeed appear to be a consistent and coherent band identity here with Frawley's vocals alternating between a somewhat guttural drawl and a keening tenor over the simplicity of the guitar-bass-keyboard-drums instrumentation. It's a deft achievement that the journalistic lyrics recounting emotional and romantic travails and the recovery from them are soundtracked by a light and airy set of musical arrangements, many of which seem to be driven by a commanding bass, as evidenced in songs such as "Just Like the Rest" and "Chain Reaction". These are pop songs one could imagine hearing on what we used to call the radio.

Even so, this is not an album that is afraid to experiment with sound, as we find out in the second half of the proceedings. The album's highlights come with "You Can't Win" and "Something About Me", the former of which recalls peak Luna, while the latter is a beautifully stripped down affair with just keyboards, bass, and violin, achieving a lovely effect. From there we move surprisingly into country territory for "Lo and Behold" and then directly into some sort of spacey synthesizer lounge for the penultimate track "Come Home", before we finally land with the closing "Where the Heart Is".

In these closing songs, it also feels like Frawley has indeed made peace with some of the more painful parts of his past and is at the same time embracing the immediate joy and satisfaction of his present situation. It cannot be an accident that the final two songs are entitled "Come Home" and "Where the Heart Is", and that the final lyric we are left with is, "you're the light that I need, and tell me you need me, and I'll come running to you." This is the sound of someone who is no longer anxiously in flight from sadness, but rather more joyfully in pursuit of contentment.

The whole thing comes in at around 40 minutes, and it feels like we've taken a whirlwind tour, but unlike Twerps' Range Anxiety, the stylistic meanderings here feel very comfortable in their own skin, for all the restlessness that continues to be a Frawley signature.

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